Matthew Lombardi

Matthew Lombardi on the comeback trail

In some of the best NHL news we’ve heard in a while, newly acquired Maple Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi is making progress in his recovery from the concussion he suffered at the beginning of last season. At this time last year, many people (including myself) were looking at Lombardi as one of the best offseason acquisitions of the summer. His speed and underrated ability to score looked like a perfect fit for the Nashville Predators and their brand of hockey. What we didn’t know was that he was going to suffer a season-ending concussion on October 13th in Chicago when he, Dave Bolland, and the United Center boards all came together at the same time.

In the ten months since the concussion, Lombardi has seen his new team battle for a playoff spot, win their first series and franchise history, and battle the President’s Trophy winning Canucks in a hard-fought 6-game series—all while he was in the press box. Eventually, the speedy center’s time in Nashville was over as soon it started. Lombardi was traded with Cody Franson for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney in a trade that can only be adequately termed as a salary-dump. The Predators were forced to give up Franson in order to get rid of Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. With his health in doubt, the Predators couldn’t afford to take the risk of $3.5 million sitting in the press box. It’s a gamble the Maple Leafs could afford to take.

If Lombardi is able to fully recover from his concussion, the trade will look like a steal for Burke and the leafs. Judging by a tweet from Darren Dreger yesterday, there’s reason for optimism:

“I’m told Leafs forward Mathew Lombardi is making progress. May not be ready for start of season, but isn’t far off… assuming no setbacks.”

Lombardi is only one of the major risks the Maple Leafs have taken on this summer. On the second day of free agency, Toronto went out and acquired often-injured free agent Tim Connolly from the Buffalo Sabres. The former 5th overall pick in had 13 goals and 29 assists in only 68 games for the Sabres. The 68 games is important—it’s the second highest total for Connolly since the lockout. Even though he was a durable forward for the New York Islanders early in his career, he only averaged 50 games per season in six seasons with the Sabres.

If Connolly can replicate the 65 points he scored in the 2009-10 season, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Leafs cure their offensive woes. They were 23rd in the league with only 2.60 goals per game; they were 22nd in the league with a relatively ineffective 16.0% power play. The guys over at the Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets seem to think the team will need a little more than just Lombardi and Connolly to compete this season:

“Ho boy! Two 50-point scorers on our top 2 lines? They’d fit right along with our…(checks stats) two 60+ point and two 55+ point players already there….hmmmmmm. Now don’t get me wrong, Connolly is absolutely an improvement over Bozak at the 1C position, but to imply that two 50-point players are what the Leafs need to finally get over the hump, one of which isn’t even skating, well that’s just silly. Especially considering that Joffrey Lupul was on pace for a 52-point 82 game season in a Leafs uniform, it’s going to take more than the addition of a 50-point 1C to get this team into the playoffs”.

There are things that Toronto management can control in the offseason and there are things they can’t. They made the calculated risk to bring in Connolly as a free agent and trade for Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators. If they both can stay healthy, the two veteran acquisitions will be a boost to a team that desperately needs a few centers. Or top 6 forwards. Or both. The news that Lombardi is progressing should be greeted with cheers from all over Leafs Nation. If he can contribute this season, he’ll be a perfect fit for a team that would like to play with speed.

Here’s to hoping his rehab continues without any major setbacks.

Leafs avoid arbitration again, sign Corrado to one year, $600K deal

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 13: Frank Corrado #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots the puck in NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks on February, 13, 2016 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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Over the weekend, reports suggested that Toronto and RFA blueliner Frank Corrado were close to agreeing to a new contract.

On Monday, the two sides sealed the deal.

The Leafs announced they signed Corrado to a one-year contract, with Sportsnet reporting it to be a $600,00 pact, of the one-way variety.

Corrado, 23, was scheduled to go to arbitration tomorrow. His ask was $900,000, while the Leafs countered with a $625,000 figure on a two-way deal, and $575,000 on a one-way.

So Toronto was nearly spot-on with its valuation.

The former Canucks draftee took a while to make his Leafs debut last season — he sat 28 games after they claimed him off waivers — but when he did get into the lineup, he fared reasonably well. Corrado finished with a goal and six points in 39 games, averaging 14:27 TOI per game.

This marks the second player Toronto avoided going to arbitration with. Prior to signing Corrado, the Leafs inked center Peter Holland to a one-year, $1.3 million deal.

Flyers need Schenn to build on career year

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Brayden Schenn #10 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates his goal in the second period against the New York Rangers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers are hoping Brayden Schenn hasn’t finished improving. The former fifth overall draft pick signed a four-year, $20.5 million contract today, after posting career highs in goals (26) and assists (33) in 2015-16.

It took a few years for Schenn, 24, to start justifying his draft position. John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, and Evander Kane were selected with the first four picks that year. Oliver Ekman-Larsson was taken sixth overall.

So there was pressure.

“I think sometimes when you draft a player top five you tend to think he’s going to develop a little quicker than other guys,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall said Monday, per Flyzette. “When you look at Brayden, has he been a fast developer? I would say probably no. Has he been a slow developer? I would say probably no. He’s probably been average.

“The good thing is he’s gotten better every year and he’s a hard worker. He’s starting to figure out the intricacies of the game. He obviously had his best year to this point so hopefully he continues to build on that.”

Hextall reportedly danced around a question about Schenn being part of the “core” group, so there’s still some proving to be done. The Flyers have already committed long-term to forwards Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier. Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl have three years left on their deals, and Dale Weise signed a four-year agreement on July 1.

As for Schenn, he knows he needs to justify the Flyers’ trust in his ongoing development.

“I feel like I keep getting better and better,” he said. “I expect nothing else next year.”

Report: If the Sabres can sign Vesey, they could be more willing to trade Kane

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 03:  Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres speaks with referee Kevin Pollock #33 during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 3, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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If the Buffalo Sabres can sign Jimmy Vesey, they may be more willing to trade winger Evander Kane.

That’s what TSN 1040 (Vancouver) radio host Matt Sekeres has been hearing, and what he’s hearing does make a lot of sense.

Kane, whose off-ice issues are once again making headlines, has two years left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. He plays the same position as Vesey, 23, who’s currently Buffalo property but can sign with any team he chooses on Aug. 15.

Even if the Sabres can’t convince Vesey to join them, Kane could still be traded. GM Tim Murray has already conceded that his patience is wearing thin with the 24-year-old that he acquired from Winnipeg not long ago. Alex Nylander, drafted eighth overall in June, plays the same position as Kane, and Murray has said it’s possible the teenager could make the jump to the NHL next season.

Buffalo, Boston and Toronto have generally been considered the favorites to land Vesey. Chicago and Pittsburgh have also been mentioned.

Related: Cue the Kane-to-Vancouver speculation

Leafs avoid arbitration with Peter Holland

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 11: Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates up the ice during NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre April 11, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t require arbitration with forward Peter Holland. They’ve signed the 25-year-old to a one-year deal worth a reported $1.3 million.

Holland had a hearing scheduled for today. Last week, the Leafs sent a message by putting him on waivers, which he cleared.

Holland had nine goals and 18 assists in 65 games last season. With him signed, the Leafs have only defensemen Frank Corrado and Martin Marincin as restricted free agents. Corrado has an arbitration hearing scheduled for tomorrow; Marincin’s is next Tuesday.

Related: Corrado and Leafs aren’t that far apart